A month from now, either Boyhood or Birdman will win an Oscar for Best picture. I say this with a good deal of certainty because Boyhood is the frontrunner in polls and Birdman won best movie in the Producer’s Guild Awards, a historically accurate predictor of Best Picture.
Of course, anything can happen, the Oscars are political and much can change in a few weeks. But I don’t want to talk politics. What I do want to talk about is what these movies share in common: an interesting concept in their direction.
Boyhood was directed over a period of 12 years, following a boy from age 8 to 20, while Birdman was shot and edited to look like a continuous take (it wasn’t; in fact it spans a few days). Both films explore the perception of time and aim to affect the viewer on a subconscious level. Whether they accomplish it well is unimportant. The fact that these movies are receiving the most attention in the media signifies a shift towards experimental film-making style becoming more mainstream, and I think that’s awesome for the film industry.
To be fair, neither of these films are the first to explore their respective concepts. Richard Linklater shot the Before trilogy with 9 years between each movie, the same amount of time passing in the characters universe. Likewise, the long take is used extensively by many directors, some attempting to shoot a whole movie in or at least appear to be one take. Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope is an example.
But to see these movies attracting so much attention today, in 2015, is exciting. I won’t weigh in on who should win because they both deserve it, but I will delve into the ways they affect the viewers psyche.
Boyhood is calm and understated. It takes you into the small events that everyone experiences but pass us by. Interestingly, it does this while passing many of the big milestones in ones life. Like the end monologue, the film’s message is that life is experienced in the moment and not in the events that take place, and this important. Boyhood is two and a half hours of a boy growing up in the 2000’s while the same boy is growing in real life. It’s true but never brutal, and above all, it’s introspective. The boy’s conversations reveal his constant desire to obtain a deeper understanding of life and the gut-wrenching lessons he learns from the people around him when he gets his answer. The feeling it conveys is that if an entire adolescence can be flipped through in less than three hours, then our whole lives are mere specs in a greater picture. The film almost begs you to make every day moments count, and in that regard, it is very successful.
Birdman depicts the struggle of a man fighting with his inner voice. The constant long takes put us directly in his shoes and we view his crazy but relate-able workings. He deals with common middle age problems like career, reputation, family, and love, and their constant pull on each other drive the decisions he makes every scene. As the film draws you in on a creative level, the main character fights with his own creativity as he struggles between artistic fulfillment and success, knowing both are beyond his reach. The scenes of a hectic theater production and crowded New York streets run parallel to his convoluted thoughts. Although the movie is comprised of long takes, the camera never settles. It’s like we are the audience in his theater, captivated by the enormity of the actor’s passion, but never given an opportunity to stop and reflect. Only when it is over do we take a deep breath and empathize with the main character. And by then, he gets what he wanted all along. The film’s message? Only when we put everything into our work and let our passion take over can we achieve inner happiness.